Friday, September 5

Derrick Jensen's name has been in the air a bit lately, for one reason or another. Probably this has something to do with the class of education hippie I hang out with. Anyway, I went to the public library the other day and the only thing they had that wasn't checked out (or stolen) was Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control, by Jensen and George Draffan. It was published in 2004, right in the thick of this decade's explosion of the corporate surveillance state, but I think a bit before some of the uglier revelations of its ongoing excesses were getting much public attention.

At any rate, I just read the whole thing (ok, so I started skimming once I hit the footnotes and bibliography). My tentative conclusion is that this is a profoundly stupid book for something like a third of its length, which is kind of unfortunate. If many of its premises weren't stated as overblown, unsupported, derivative, condescending, and moderately juvenile horseshit, it would have some excellent points to make.

It might anyway, but I think most readers with much perspective on science & technology are going to have a hard time getting past the passages that kept making me want to throw the book across the room. Which, despite the amount of James Dobson's prose I've processed at one time or another, is a sensation I've only felt a couple of times in my life.

Selective quotation:

This might be a good time to examine the etymology of the word science. It comes from the Latin scientia, from sciens, which means having knowledge, from the present participle of scire, meaning to know, probably—and here's where it gets exciting—askin to the Sanskrit Chyati, meaning he cuts off, and Latin scindere, to split, cleave. The dictionary tells me there's more at shed (presumably the verb, as in dog hair, not the noun, as in a shack).

So I look up shed, which derives from the Middle English for divide, separate, from Old English scaeden, akin to High German skeiden, to separate, which brings us back to our Latin friend scindere, and from there to the Greek schizein, to split.

We are all familiar of course with the root schizein because of its famous grandchild schizophrenia (literally split mind), which is a psychotic disorder characterized by a loss of contact with the environment, illogical patterns of thinking and acting, delusions and hallucinations, and a noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life.

Science, scire, scindere, schizein, schizophrenia. A mind split into pieces.

p. 25

Rhetorical devices I am learning to hate, #2.

... Scientific analysis cannot coexist with love and relationship (vivisection, anyone?). ...

p. 28

What does science do? It calls for everything to be measured. It calls for everything that cannot be measured to be ignored or destroyed, and everything that can be measured to be analyzed (according to the rules of science). It calls for calculations to be made as to how everything that can be measured and analyzed can best be used. It calls for those doing the measurements, calculations, and analyses (and most especially their masters) to rule over everything that can be measured. We are describing the methods and effects of science, not the conscious motivations of every scientist.

p. 73

Generous of you.

High technology is a tool of industrial production. Neither more nor less.

...

A lack of bureaucracy leads to a lack of efficiency.

p. 79

Calling people out on obvious hyperbole is probably not all that productive. But still. Since I have to assume that the authors (living as they do in roughly the same industrial civilization as most of their intended readers) have encountered instances of both actual technology and actual bureaucracy, I also have to assume that they know these statements are horseshit. If I know this, and they know this, and most anyone who thinks about it for a few seconds probably knows this, what exactly is being achieved here?